Four tips on photographing moving animals
My focus this week for my series on improving your photographic results is four tips on photographing moving animals.
I am shortly going on safari in Africa (Namibia and Kruger) so one of the skill sets I may require is to photograph an animal ‘on the chase’. This is an area I have struggled in – give me a stationary (or slow moving) animal any day! However, the impact of a well captured animal in motion is truly dramatic – so I would love to capture a good one.
In the meantime it is also important to come back with other photos so I will hopefully capture more like this one that I captured on a previous African safari:
Tip 1: Know your camera
I was reading a post by A Cruising Couple the other day on tips to getting sharp photos that triggered in my mind the need to know your camera inside out. The post provides a detailed account about taking sharp pictures – I highly recommend it. For the purpose of taking sharp pictures of moving animals I found the section on optimising your focus which details single point versus dynamic area and single focus mode versus continuous focus mode a very good reminder on this subject.
Given the reminder, I then wanted to know exactly how to translate the above details on my camera. This is where your guide book is an invaluable read and resource to return to. There are times when I am inclined to forget about reading the camera guidebook but I think this approach leads to a lot of missed opportunities (I know from personal experience).
Tip 2: Have your camera ready
Stating the obvious – an animal in flight won’t be waiting and it can all happen very quickly so if it looks like there will be some action I intend to have my camera ready. This is the most time sensitive opportunity I feel I will come across so I plan to have the camera ready on continuous autofocus mode, an appropriate dynamic focus mode and object tracking on. Pre-consideration will also be given to the ISO, f stop and shutter speed.
Tip 3: What techniques should be used to capture the shot?
This is really a series of tips:
Do you want to pan ? For me, at least initially, I won’t be attempting to pan. If I obtain a satisfactory image with a stationary camera I might then try to pan but I feel this will require a lot of skill given the unpredictable course of a rapidly moving animal. The rest of this discussion will focus (apologies for the pun) on the non-panning approach.
I found travel tips by Rick Salmon to be a useful resource (click on this link). His tips included:
- Given the high speed of the animals you need to think about the minimum shutter speed required to freeze the action. For this type of shot a minimum of 1/500th of a second is usually required. This seems to be consistent advice if you are photographing a big cat on the run (note some recommend shutter priority for this purpose)
- It is also worth leaving a reasonable amount of space around a moving animal to minimise the risk of chopping off important body parts
- shoot at a high frame rate in low light when hand holding a camera with a telephoto lens on (I hadn’t thought about this before but will give it a go).
Tip 4: Know the animal
It will be apparent from above that the more you know about the animal the better the outcome is likely to be. For example, shutter speed requirements are highly dependent on the animal and what it is doing. While this post is on moving animals, most of the time I am likely to be photographing animals that are in more sedentary modes. I came across some useful safari tips from the director of Disney’s African Cats which included shutter speed requirements for other big cat situations and also details about the most promising time of the day to photograph on safari. I will include details in a subsequent post but if you want a sneak preview go here.
There are many more tips I could include here. The tips I have included resonate with me but I’m sure you have others that have helped you photography.
Let me know what has helped you to to photograph moving animals. If you like you can feel free to leave a link in the comments section to an image you are particularly fond of and perhaps provide some information on the key skills used that contributed to it being a favourite image.